Before they are set down on paper, agreements between schools tend to be vague. "We were invited to Wisconsin-Green Bay's Christmas tournament this year," says Haskins. "All the information they sent us was inviting us for this year. But when they sent us a contract, it was for the 1998-99 season. Because they looked at our roster and saw who we had coming back: Charles Jones [the nation's leading scorer last year], Mike Campbell and Richie Parker." (For his part, Wisconsin-Green Bay coach Mike Heideman says the original invitation was for the '98-99 season, and that the confusion was caused by a miscommunication between his staff and Haskins's.)
With that powerful roster Haskins has swung deals with far-off Hawaii, Fresno State and Iowa, but he can't seem to catch a break in the New York City vicinity. "I wanted to play Seton Hall," says Haskins. "Tommy Amaker [the Pirates' first-year coach] asked me if I was crazy. We can't get a game with Columbia. Iona won't play us, Hofstra won't play us. They are programs like us, but they don't want any part of us. This is their philosophy: If they're going to take a game where they have a strong possibility of losing, why not get $50,000 to play that game [on the road], as opposed to losing for a lot less [at home]?"
The bottom line is, the best chance a small school has against a big one is in the NCAA tournament. Even though Jackson State was the 16th seed in last year's Southeast sub-regional at Memphis and had to face top-seeded Kansas, Stoglin was unfazed. "Are you kidding?" he says. "We got a neutral court, neutral fans and neutral officials. That was a good deal for us." But for modestly funded schools like Jackson State, that nirvana of neutrality remains at the far end of a pothole-filled path. How can they get out of the road rut? Mitchell has a provocative, if impractical, idea. "Put Coppin State in the ACQ" he says. "Let us play the ACC schedule. Let us play at home against those schools and not have to play guarantee games, and I guarantee you our power rating would be high enough to get us into the tournament."
Stoglin suggests an NCAA-imposed limit of 13 home games in a 26-game schedule. If such a plan were put into effect, he says, "the big schools would call me because they'd rather play me home-and-home than Kentucky and Arkansas. But that's not going to happen." He has another idea. "One thing the NCAA could do that would affect the ratings but not the money—because when it comes to taking money from the big schools, they aren't going to do that—is to have a point spread [that applies only to the RPI] for teams on the road. If we're playing on the road with their officials, in their place, then they should have to beat us by more than 15 points to get a win in the power ratings. If we have one of our officials, it's a 10-point spread; if it's neutral officials, it's five points. That way we would have a chance to get something out of the ratings."
Stoglin laughs, realizing the NCAA would never make official policy of anything with the words point spread in it. Or maybe he is recalling the wisdom of ageless baseball great Satchel Paige. Thirty years ago they traveled together with the Harlem Globetrotters, Stoglin as a player with the troupe and Paige as an added fan attraction. "Satchel would always say, 'Youngster, you have to get the big picture,' " says Stoglin. "I can sit here and complain about the big schools and scheduling, but in the big picture what it really comes down to is money."
In any case, Stoglin had other riches on his mind on this September afternoon, including the 10 seniors and 40 walk-on candidates who would start working out in the gym in 10 minutes. It is a thought he can cherish briefly: For the moment his home court is a very popular place to be.